10 Window Gardening Tips from Sprout Home + 10 Great Outdoor Planters

by Grace Bonney

As a city dweller, I relish the idea of outdoor space. But after ten years in Brooklyn (I’m officially a New Yorker!) I’ve given up on the idea of ever having any of my own. Back yards with sweeping views, trees with tire swings, picket fences? I’m officially trading them in for pigeon battles on my air conditioner and windowsills crammed with a mix of cat toys and plants. Urban annoyances aside, I’m happy about my little windowsills full of plants. From begonias and ferns to herbs and small flowering plants, I’ve been able to keep various plants alive (for varying amounts of time) over the years and it’s made the industrial landscape a little bit more bearable.

So today I thought I’d ask my go-to plant expert, Tassy de Give of Sprout Home, to share her Top 10 Tips for Window Gardening. Whether you’re cultivating a tiny urban garden or just want to grow a more colorful view from a suburban window, she’s got fantastic ideas for containers, plant types, tips for shade vs. light and the major pitfalls to avoid. To go along with her green thumb tips, I’ve rounded up some great outdoor planters that will work for placing in your window or hanging near it. I hope this will help any of you out there looking to start your spring growing season. Happy Planting! xo, grace

Image above: Vintage Wooden Crate Planter $94

The full interview and planters continue after the jump…

D*S: What types of plants, flowers and herbs should people look to if they’re planning a window garden?

Tassy: Plants/Flowers – It’s important to think about the shape and color of plants that you would like and also the space that they’ll grow in. Do you want something that will climb window bars or a fire escape? Do you want something that will trail down over an empty wall? Do you want something that will stay green all year or are you looking for seasonal flowering plants? Climbing vines that work well in window boxes are sweet peas, morning glories, jasmine vine, and passion flower. Trailing vines are lysimachia, vinca vine, sweet potato vine, and english ivy. Plants that stick around all year are pachysandra, liriope grasses, ivy, and heather. Keep in mind that if you are looking for flowering plants, you should consider that many plants bloom at different times of the year, so you may need to switch out your flowering plants every 2-3 months. These plants include helleborus, pansies, violas, ranunculus, osteospermum, nemesia, bacopa, begonias, snapdragons, and lantana. The list of flowering plants goes on and on. Flowering plants should be pruned after the blooms die off to encourage new growth and should also be fertilized every 2-3 weeks.

Herbs – Basil, rosemary, thyme, chives, parsley, oregano, and sage are all great herbs that work well together in a window box. The main thing is to not overplant. In a window box approximately 24x6x6 I would plant four herbs max. Do not plant mint with other herbs as it will take over the container. The more room you give to each herb the happier it will be and the more you can expect it to grow. Knowing the proper pruning is also important. Most herbs you want to pinch back (prune back to the next leaf set) so that they stay nice and full. Simply pulling off the leaves will leave you with tall sparse plants. Most herbs prefer full sun and moist soil. I recommend checking for watering every morning. If the soil is moist, leave it alone. If it’s dry, then soak it!

Hanging Metal Planter $99

D*S: What are good vessels to use if you’re focusing on window gardening?

Tassy: You want to make sure that any outdoor vessel you use has a drain hole. This is important because when it rains or when you water, you don’t want the planter filling up w/ water. Wood such as cedar or teak are great because they develop a natural patina over time and do not rot when potted directly into with soil. Metal such as aluminum or steel can also be used. Plastic, especially double-lined plastic is generally the most affordable and holds up well outdoors. Ceramic and terracotta should be avoided as they can crack over the winter, especially if they have soil/plants kept in them.

Images above: Herb Planter Stand $34, Wire Pots $12-$19

D*S: What are your must-have tools for window gardening?

Tassy: Everyone should have a basic trowel (plastic is fine) and a good set of pruners. The type of pruners you’ll need is dependent on how thick the stem is that you’re cutting. Scissors are fine for basic flowers, but if you are cutting anything thicker than 1/4″ you will want to invest in a sturdier pruner. I like fiskars because they are cost effective and have a range of pruner types. Nitrile gloves are also great basic they have a protective coating on them, but aren’t too bulky.

D*S: If people are planting in a small space in a single container, how closely should plants be placed together?

Tassy: The amount of space you leave between each plant is really dependent on the type of plant you have. Herbs prefer a lot of room, but succulents like to be crowded. Most people want some instant gratification and are not willing to wait a full season to produce a mature container planting, so I generally look at the recommended spacing on the tag and then cut that in half.

Wooden Herb Planter $43

D*S: What should people consider when combining plants (ie: what types of plants go together well?)

Tassy: You should definitely try to group similar plant needs together in one container. Sedums and succulents prefer full sun and like to dry out between waterings. Herbs also like full sun, but like to be kept moist. Most flowering annuals like full sun and moist soil. That said, I’ve seen some really cool planters that disregard all the rules and plant things like succulents with ferns and sometimes they do okay. Plants generally can adapt to different environments, but I do think it’s important to try and give them their ideal environment whenever possible.

D*S: What are some common mistakes people make when window gardening?

Tassy: The biggest mistakes I notice people make when window gardening is they forget to water! Window boxes tend to dry out quickly because of the sun and wind and it is important to check for watering every morning. This does not mean that you have to water every morning necessarily, but you should check the soil and if it’s dry, then soak the planter. It’s better to water deeply and thoroughly less often that a little bit every day. Another common mistake is overcrowding. A general rule of thumb is about 6″ per plant.

Images above: Stone Planter $18 and Recycled Pallet Planters $25 each

D*S: Do you use fertilizers or any enhancers for soils/plants when window gardening? If not, what tips do you have for people looking to keep their plants healthy organically?

Tassy: Flowering plants should be fertilized every 2-3 weeks in order to keep the blooms coming. Most other green plants and herbs can be fertilized 1-2x per season. Earth worm castings, compost, and fish emulsion/kelp are all good organic fertilizers. When selecting a fertilizer, make sure to ask your local garden center for an organic one if you are planning to fertilize any edibles.

D*S: How do you protect plants from the high winds and weather that plants will experience in high apartment windows?

Tassy: If high wind is an issue, I would select plants that stay short and compact and do not grow too tall. Wind also tends to dry out the soil very quickly so you will either need to water more often or select more drought tolerant plants such as sedums and succulents. In terms of intense sun, most herbs and annuals can handle the heat, you’ll just need to compensate for the water accordingly.

Rail Planter $22

Zinc and Willow Tray $16

D*S: If your windows all fall in the shade, are there any plants that do well in low light?

Tassy: Shade plantings are some of my favorite and generally do not require as much watering as a full sun planter. Helleborus, vinca vine, black mondo grass, pachysandra, english ivy, hakonechloa grass, begonias, and flowering maples all do well in the shade.

D*S: Are there any new or exciting trends in container gardening that you like?

Tassy: Fragrant flowers and plants are becoming more popular, especially as window gardens because people want that amazing scent drifting into their apartments. Things like lavender, sweet pea, jasmine, and other herbs all provide great fragrant smells. Edible plantings are also important, especially in small-scale window gardens. Besides herbs, you can also grow arugula, eggplant, peppers, and strawberries in window boxes.

You can visit Tassy and the Sprout Home Brooklyn team at 44 Grand Street or online right here.

Galvanized Planter $128

Wallter Outdoor Wall Planter $72

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  • It’s so cold down in Baltimore this week that we’re behind on getting seeds started for our garden. But the daffodils are blooming and this post makes us extra excited to get started in the back yard. Thanks for the great inspiration!

  • Yay! I’m getting ready to enhance my window garden. I’m finally living somewhere with LOTS of light. Love picking up succulents at Sprout!

  • Thank you! This is exactly what I needed. I live in an apartment (do have a small covered deck) but face north east so I don’t get much sun. The suggestions for plants for shade are great. It’s always tough, because I like bright and colourful and I find the shade plants are less so. If you have any more suggestions for bright, colorful, flowering plants for the shade I will gladly take them.

    Happy planting everyone!

  • I’m so sick of my white, plastic, Home Depot planter boxes but that last photo has given me a brilliant idea on how I want to restyle the rail on my front steps…

  • This is really helpful! I have been fortunate to have a small deck the past few years and have tried to take advantage of the space for plants though I may have the black thumb. I appreciate the suggestions on plant types and how to group herbs!

  • I just moved from NYC to an apartment with a balcony (not in NYC of course — in California) and am so ready to get my plant on. This is such a handy guide, especially regarding herbs because growing them yourself is such a good way to cut down costs.

  • I know they won’t work all that well as window boxes, but these steel tubs are great for outdoor planting. Yes, you do need to drill holes in the bottom, but other than that, they’re the cheapest/cutest I’ve seen for planters, anywhere. They also make great holders for beer! :)

  • Oh my gosh, this is so helpful. I have two black thumbs, much to my constant dismay and disappointment. Thanks for the great tips, maybe this will be the year it all turns around!

  • I like the 6″ per plant rule of thumb, I always end up overcrowding and having to re-pot my window sill plants. Those succulents in the planters on the fence are really cute – if we ever manage to get a fence put up the way I want I’ll have to look into planters like that.

  • Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before but after looking at many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely pleased I came across it and I’ll be
    book-marking it and checking back frequently!

  • That’s true that you don’t always have a full yard to have a garden in. That would be fun to having climbing plants over a fire escape. Jasmine vine sounds like fun. I wonder if it is a hardy plant. I will admit that I don’t have the greenest thumb. It would look great in a wooden planter, though.

  • This is some really good information about outdoor gardening. It is good to know that there are a lot of different types of buying planters. I liked that tin and concrete ones. I wonder if I can get on of these.